Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spring 2012: A Good Semester

This is where the magic happens.

I meant to write this post three weeks ago, when the semester actually started, but then the semester actually started and there was no time to write this post. Funny how that works. 

That said: it is officially Spring 2012 and my second semester in the MFA program. It's hard to believe that just over four months ago, I was staring my first semester. That I had no idea what I was doing, what I would write, who my friends would be, or where my classrooms were (I remember getting lost in Kenan Hall my first week, which, if you are familiar with Kenan Hall, you will recognize as ridiculous. Kenan Hall is, perhaps, the smallest building to ever exist on a college campus, and it belongs entirely to the UNCW creative writing program). The point I'm trying to make is that I've come a long way, baby. And I'm glad. Beginnings are exciting but I much prefer the comfort of the familiar and routine, especially when it comes to school and writing.

Speaking of writing, I'm taking three classes this semester - Fiction Writing Workshop, Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop, and The Writing Life. In my MFA program, we are required to take a certain number of out-of-genre credits, and I've decided to go with nonfiction. Mostly because creative nonfiction is my second love, but also because poetry terrifies me. Which means I should probably take poetry at some point, as it's good to scare yourself every now and then, but I'll put that off for now.

The Writing Life is basically a class about life as a writer. It covers the so-called "spiritual" side of writing (how to make time for it, how to create productive habits, how to balance writing with family, friends, sanity, etc) as well as the professional side (agents and literary journals and not starving in a cardboard box on the side of the road). We've been reading a bunch of books about writing, which is one of my favorite ways to procrastinate actually writing. So far, I've enjoyed this class a bunch. (If you want to see our reading list and syllabus, my professor David Gessner posted it to his blog.)

In the Fiction class, I'll be handing in two pieces, each about 15 pages long, for workshop. Fairly straightforward, as far as workshops go. The creative nonfiction class, however, is a different story. I will also be handing in two essays, but they are each supposed to be 25 pages long (!) and contain some amount of research. One of the pieces also has to have at least two interviews (!!). I have already handed in one piece and I'm actually being workshopped this week. At 24 pages it (!!!) was the longest thing I've ever written in my adult life. I took the easy route for my first go and basically wrote a roller derby memoir, and I have no idea if it's any good. That's the thing about writing - I can edit someone else's essay to pieces, zeroing in on the weak spots like Calvin zeros in on his bowl at dinner time, but when it comes to my own stories totally and utterly blind. This, I suppose, is why we have workshops.

On top of all that, I'm also teaching again. It's the same class I taught last semester (Introduction to Creative Writing) and I spent the week before the semester started going through everything I did the first time around - the readings I assigned, the lessons I prepared, the exercises I made the students do - and decided what worked well and what might work better. Now, I am reaping the rewards of having all my lessons finished and ready to go, which has already saved me a lot of stress and last minute freak-outs. Planning ahead: it really works!

Overall, I'm excited about this semester. I feel settled in the program and challenged by my classes, I've been writing and revising more consistently than ever before, and I'm continually inspired by the hard work and sheer talent of my classmates and colleagues. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I am so happy I came to UNCW. Things have worked out better than I ever imagined and I am grateful for every opportunity this place and these people have given me.

Now: back to work!